According to the Pew Research Center, about 35 percent of today’s American workforce is of the millennial generation — those between the ages of about 23 and 38. That makes it the largest generation drawing a paycheck today. No wonder the business world is discussing the unique habits that this large chunk of the population brings to the workplace.
There’s been plenty said about how baby boomers prefer their private offices while their younger co-workers can congregate together on couches and shared tables in open spaces. But there’s more to it than that — and many of the differences in work style can be beneficial to your own operation regardless of the ages of your team members.
Here are some of the millennial tendencies and preferences that you might consider encouraging in your workplace to boost productivity and morale.
Not relying on the clock
When you got your first job, one of the first things you learned were the hours. You discovered that you were expected in at, say, nine o’clock. You could take a half-hour or hour-long lunch and, if you were a clock watcher, you left for the day at five.
Not that there wasn’t a little leeway in that schedule. You could sneak into the office a couple minutes late if you didn’t make a habit of it. Or leave a little early if it was your turn to pick up the kids at daycare. Just don’t go crazy.
Things are much different today. Millennials brought to the office the expectation that there should be some flexibility in arrivals and departures. We’ll answer the “why” of that shortly.
This idea of flexibility could make sense regardless of the generational mix at your place of business. You’ve got night people who spend the first hour at work drinking coffee and staring at the wall. And morning people whose eyelids grow heavy by late afternoon. Why shouldn’t they put their energy cycles to their best advantage — and yours?
You’ve also got work responsibilities that fit different schedules. For instance, if one employee’s prime responsibility is contact with an important client who doesn’t get into her own office until late mornings, why should your worker check in at the crack of dawn? By the same token, if the big boss tends to call early morning coffee and doughnut meetings, shouldn’t his team be able to leave before five?
Adopting millennial loose scheduling habits can increase the productivity of your people and certainly make them feel better about the time they spend at work.
And now we get into the reason why your millennials won’t necessarily be waiting for you to unlock the office door at eight o’clock sharp. They’ve already been working. Or they’ll be putting in time after dinner tonight. Or over the weekend.
For better or for worse, millennials take their work home with them. It’s right there on their smartphones and in the laptops in their backpacks. They use collaborative project management software. They take and send text messages to clients and co-workers whenever a thought strikes them. They’re sitting around in their jammies in the wee hours while holding a Skype meeting with a supplier in a time zone on the other side of the globe.
Millennials have been working this way since college. It makes a lot of sense to adopt this thinking in your own workplace. How often have you found an ingenious solution to a knotty work problem at midnight, only to forget it by the time you got into work the next day or after the weekend?
If you followed millennial thinking, you’d commit that thought to your Intranet site as soon as you thought it and send a link to everyone on your work team. Then you and your people would be way ahead of the curve by the time you got to work the next day.
What the millennial approach says is that your best ideas don’t necessarily come during the same eight-hour time block five days a week. Call it a workday whenever inspiration strikes.
Little budgetary reliance on office space
Remember how millennials aren’t much into private offices? And how their workday never really ends? It used to be that if you were to start a company with ten employees you’d need to find office space with a reception area and nine or ten offices and a big conference room. That was expensive.
Today, you might be able to put together a team from all over the country and only see them in one place once or twice a year. Or rent space for ten workers without a single private office — just a large open space with a few couches, desks placed here and there and a couple big tables. Your people will arrive and depart on their own schedules and plug in their laptops and charge their phones from the space that works best for them.
Don’t discourage this seemingly haphazard arrangement. It makes your people feel more productive and you might save a prodigious amount in office rent.
Loosey-goosey job descriptions
Remember negotiating a job title along with (or instead of) a raise? Just seeing the new title on your brand new box of business cards made it all worth it.
That’s not such a millennial thing, and it could be for the best. Younger workers feel more engaged with the job at hand than with the title. They like to collaborate, so let them. Instead of segregating job responsibilities and building org charts in traditional ways, just put the challenge to the work team. Let them figure out who’s going to do what. That’s where that project management software comes to play.
All they have to know is the end goal. You’ll increase productivity, boost morale and see challenges met in unexpected and creative ways.
Every American business offers a great work-life balance today. Or at least that’s what they all say. Just the fact that more companies realize the importance of saying those words is a good thing. You can thank your millennials for that.
Those younger workers have figures out the importance of doing things that aren’t work. Things like taking vacations, enjoying weekends, having kids and spending time with them.
It’s not like you didn’t ever have the same urges. It’s just that you didn’t ever feel comfortable asking for that “frivolous” thing known as personal time. If you didn’t put in your 45 or 50 hours a week and the occasional weekend hours, the guy in the next office would and he’d get the promotion you were bucking for.
Millennials introduced the radical idea of not always working. When they did, corporate America found that the economy didn’t crash with the cultural change. Companies really could survive — and even thrive — in an environment where workers felt they could go home on time, take a day off to hang with the kids and stroll in late if they’d already begun the workday with a flurry of emails sent from the breakfast table.
Bringing their own work style into the workplace
This is what it all comes down to: millennials aren’t afraid to introduce their way of life into the workplace and you should encourage that with your entire crew.
Not ever business operation can follow these millennial practices. You might have to have certain workers in certain places at defined times — for instance, if you’re operating a factory. But if you’re able to allow the freedoms described here, you and your entire team are likely to benefit.
Your older workers might not feel comfortable with communal work space and punching in to the virtual time clock any time of the day or night — and that’s fine. If your Gen Xers and your boomers prefer more conventional hours and work style arrangement, let them follow it. If you have an open office layout, make sure you have a few huddle rooms or more private space for those of any age who are easily distracted by noise or the near proximity of others.
You’ll find that your people will work best when they feel supported in their own productive work style. Don’t force the millennial way on anyone, but as more of your aging workers retire and your pool of workers grows ever younger, your culture will inevitably change.
We think that change might be for the best.